2017.46: Split (2017)
It has been a long time since I actually looked forward to a film from M. Night Shyamalan; probably as far back as Unbreakable back in, 2000. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and after the great The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, his further films, Signs, The Village and Lady in the Water clearly showed him to be a director/writer who loved one-line concepts, nifty ideas from which he would extrapolate a movie, often complete with a ‘twist’ stinger. The idea works in theory – Rod Serling did it consummately well with the classic The Twilight Zone anthology series, but a movie is a different beast to a half-hour tv show and it soon became tiresome, for me, anyway, and I finally gave up with The Happening, a film with the most ironic title in film history, as far as I’m concerned, as nothing happened for the whole bloody film.
I never watched The Last Airbender, or After Earth, or The Visit.
Split is a return to form, though, and even teases an Unbreakable 2 at the end (which is titled Glass, perhaps to dispense with the problem of calling it either Unbreakable 2 or Split 2, and ahem, avoid any risk of splitting fans). That said, I think some of the positively ecstatic reviews are more a result of James McAvoy’s brilliant turn as Dennis, a character who has 23 personalities with a 24th threatening to surface with horrific results, than the quality of the film itself. McAvoy is pretty phenomenal, completely convincing as ‘Dennis’ keeps appearing with a different personality. The viewer is quickly able to identify each distinct personality as much from McAvoy’s visual ‘ticks’ and his voice as much as from what clothes he is wearing. Indeed, later on in the film as the personalities seem to switch during single shots McAvoy’s performance becomes almost breathtaking in its subtlety and clarity.
Beyond McAvoy’s performance, though, the film does fall into problems. The films heroines (captured teenagers imprisoned by Dennis for a grisly fate at the hands/teeth of personality #24) are a pretty bland bunch, and like many M. Night Shyamalan films, the film is ultimately just too long to sustain its one-liner plot. The film is also surprisingly low on scares/tension until the end, and even there the final ‘twist’ is unfortunately a little weak. If Unbreakable was a superhero origin film, then Split is a supervillain origin film, so what was ostensibly a horror/thriller becomes, in ironic movie split-personality fashion, a superhero genre film- yeah, another one. Which in hindsight is rather fun, I guess. But maybe it is one clever conceit too many and M. Night Shyamalan falling into his old pitfalls.
Still, certainly a return to form for the writer/director and hopefully it bodes well for his next film- yes, one I’m actually looking forward to. So job done, I guess.